Sina Weibo has taken a leaf out of Facebook’s book by introducing support for SMS through the introduction of a premium membership option, as it seeks to monetise users and brands that rely on its microblogging platform.

Going premium will give Sina Weibo users increased options to keep in touch with messages posted to the service through text messages. Users will be able to set up and receive up to 300 notifications of private or public messages from as many as five different accounts.

Chinese users take great pride in displaying badges on Weibo, there to encourage the verification of accounts with official ID — a controversial ruling that authorities are actively pushing — and premium users will get a dedicated badge to show their status.

At this stage, it seems that the subscription, which cost 5 RMB ($0.79) per month or 50 RMB ($7.92) per year, is rather misleadingly billed as ‘premium’. Most smartphone users can access the service through apps or via the mobile Web, which leads us to assume that the function may be for lower-end handsets, as Twitter’s SMS service is.

There is another option. As SMS is almost impossible to miss, the service is a way of guaranteeing that you’ll see updates from certain people; perhaps a loved-one, celebrity, politician or newspaper. But the 300 SMS allocation may get eaten up pretty quickly given the vociferous manner with which many update microblogs these days.

Confusion around this is not limited to us, as Marbridge consulting explains:

Sina’s announcement of the new premium membership plan has stimulated a flood of related comments from Chinese internet users, with many users expressing skepticism over how many Weibo users would actually be interested to subscribe to the new service.

If this all feels very Twitter-like, then you’re right to wonder why Sina is charging for a service that Twitter offers in full without charge. Twitter users can send and receive messages by SMS and, thanks to its ‘Fast Follow‘ service, they can even get updates without even having an account.

We’ve often rightly lauded Sina for evolving the microblogging experience in China. The company offers a raft of features that Twitter doesn’t — such as games, Instant Messaging, group chat, video and media tie-ups, and more — but this introduction is less cutting-edge, and for that reason alone, is worth talking about.